Where is Big Brother ??

In these times of China bashing one cannot but think of “1984” George Orwell ‘s dystopian, futuristic novel first published in 1949. It relates the quest for truth of Winston Smith, a low-ranking party member of a single party group of former nations ruled and controlled by a totalitarian single party under the absolute rule of Big Brother.

I am sure that by now you are convinced that I am about to launch myself into a verbose attack on China, Xi Jinping and its single party. Well, I am not and instead, I will cast my eyes on what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic, the United States of America, that regarded itself so long  as champion of the cause of liberty and democracy.

In 2016, a megalomaniac, sulfurous, real estate mogul, turned TV reality show actor producer, ran through the American primaries, astutely deriding all his rivals. He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes against the relatively controversial Hillary Clinton, but managed after a remarkably energetic campaign, to swing just enough voters (about 100,000 votes) to deliver him the electoral college majority and the Presidency.

A man devoid of any political experience , let alone worldly knowledge, he took the reins of the most prosperous country on earth and proceeded to control, not only every arm of the government , but the judicial branch and, by getting control of the Republican party machinery, he was able to put in leash the executive branch.

Whereas long-standing protocol dictates that the FBI and Justice Department should operate free of political influence or meddling from the White House, way beyond the normal appointment of Supreme court justices, he embarked in politicising the workings of Justice.  We shall not go into details about the dismissal of FBI director Comey, the Mueller investigation and the replacement of Jeff Sessions by William Barr as attorney general, followed by the dismemberment of the DOJ’s key career officers. Nor will we delve into the appointment of ultra right lower judges, despite protests from the civil rights and legal communities.

An admirer of strong quasi dictatorial leaders such as Wladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, not to mention his flirt with Kim Jong Un, well decided to go through another term  and possibly more if one  knew what was going through his mind, he proceeded to control the Republican party and managed to eliminate political rebellion. Having inherited from his predecessor a growing economy, he further steamed it by moderating regulations, a good measure, but also by reducing taxations and increasing budget deficits, a long-term burden on the economy.

Not content with his success in the stock market boom, he decided to adventure himself in foreign politics with the successes that we know. The US instead of being “great abroad”, has become the ship to abandon. As we entered 2020, no bookmaker could further find a client to bet against his re-election. Big Brother was in control.

And then the bad genie according to scientists escaped from a live market or according to conspiracy theorists from a lab in Wuhan. The virus was Initially drastically controlled in a Big Brother fashion by Chinese authorities and also skilfully defused by neighbouring Asiatic countries. It therefore was not considered a pandemic threat until it started hitting Europe. Although privately pressurised by his officials to consider and develop a strategy against a massive epidemic, Trump in order not to depart his trade discussions with China, chose to ignore it and just proclaimed, a week after the Hubei province was locked in, an ineffectual travel ban which he would later claim had saved  100 thousand of lives.

From there on, fearful of slowing down the economy, he continued to ignore or minimize the dangers of expansion of the epidemic and more than occasionally made a fool of himself during his daily conferences. More seriously, as early as end February, he started politicising the crisis, accusing Democrats of “politicizing” the virus, claiming that their fear of an outbreak was “their new hoax”. (at the time there were only 62 cases and no deaths in the US but in Italy within 10 days the number of cases had exploded from 3 to 888 cases).

Meanwhile, in the first ten days of March, as the Pandemic started raging in Europe multiplying by a factor of over 10, the cases mushroomed especially in the Eastern Board States. By the time a travel ban, on 26 European nations (UK and Ireland not included), was instituted on the 13th of March,there were nearly 2,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and 43 deaths. By the end of March, the US cases were almost 190,000 and the deaths over 5000. The ban had come too late to stop the fire, but the worse was the lack of preparation, limited and unreliable testing, the insufficiency of ICU beds and the shortage of PPE equipment This would increase the number of deaths. The voice of Science had been smothered by the haze of political ideology.

And there it was more of the same. His biggest success, the stock market collapsed prompting him to discourage the red states to lockdown using politics as the wisdom potion. As the Eastern states managed to douse the fire, the day and algo-traders managed to prop up the market to over 85% of its peak value. This was enough to get our doctor Strangelove to push all the states to reopen prematurely. We are now witnessing the re-ignition of the first wave.

Where are we going now? The fire is raging and so is the political rift. Science is hidden by a fog of politically motivated conspiracy theories. A large number of rural republicans still believe that Coronavirus is a hoax or a light cold that can be cured with Hydroxychloroquine.  Fortunately, thanks to a better understanding of tactics of the virus and better therapeutics, the death toll is not rising as fast as earlier in the epidemic. The reverse side of the coin is that the doubters use the improved statistics to minimize the impact of the enemy.

Thanks to Potus’ denigrations of the mask, wearing or not wearing a mask has become a political identification emblem. What happened to G.W. Bush federal government developed guidelines to be used in  government communications during a public-health crisis?: “be first,” “be right,” “be credible,” “show respect” and “promote action.” ? In this case it does not work for the candidate’s ratings, so forget values! What he does not understand is that his refusal to accept his instincts limitations and instead to fail to recognize science is leading to his possible demise.

He is now banking that some of the vaccines being developed, will have a successful trial just in time for the election day. What a bet! Already, as the knowledge of the virus improves, there is some evidence emerging casting doubt on the longevity of antibodies of Covid-19 patients that have recovered. If this reduction of antibody load is substantiated, it could bring some doubt on the reliability of vaccines targeting antibody production. It would make the vaccines that are targeting, in addition to antibodies, a T cell response, more likely to succeed. But these more traditional vaccines may take longer to develop.

So, we are back to Science and its proven approach in epidemiology: protection, testing, tracing and curing. Big Brother does not like testing, as he argues it raises the number of cases and deflects his ratings. In the wake of rapidly rising cases, particularly in the states that he needs to win, he has embarked in fierce attacks against China for want of another target. This is just opening the road for China to contest the weakening American leadership. Meanwhile, on the economic front, China that managed efficiently the epidemic is likely to grow by between 3-4% whereas the US, according to a basket of forecasts is likely to recede by at least 2%. That could be a 6% advantage for China instead of a 3% advantage versus the US, had the pandemic not occurred.,

What is more worrying is his politization of the department of homeland security allowing it to interfere with civil protests under the guise of anti-riot or counter-terrorism action. Whereas protection of monuments is a desirable aim, uncontrolled repression forces can create an incendiary climate, such as what we witnessed in Oregon.

This engineered law and order incidents reminiscent of the 1930’s brown shirts provocations would bring back to his base a lot of doubters. As this Big Brother only cares about his ratings and re-election, expect more aggression in these next months. And his opponents better be prepared for a campaign of vilification. Whatever doubts one can have about the ageing Grand Father, we know that he has a good if unexciting story behind him, but we can expect a proper team to second him. His “build back America” program is a good indicator that common sense supported by science will prevail over the overrated art of the deal. Better a good Grand Father than a bad Big Brother!

What is more worrying is his politization of the department of homeland security allowing it to interfere with civil protests under the guise of anti-riot or counter-terrorism action. Whereas protection of monuments is a desirable aim, uncontrolled repression forces can create an incendiary climate, such as what we witnessed in Oregon. This engineered law and order incidents reminiscent of the 1930’s brown shirts provocations would bring back to his base a lot of doubters.

As this Big Brother only cares about his ratings and re-election, expect more aggression in these next months. And his opponents better be prepared for a campaign of vilification. Whatever doubts one can have about the ageing Grand Father, we know that he has a good if unexciting story behind him, but we can expect a proper team to second him. His “build back America” program is a good indicator that common sense supported by science will prevail over the overrated art of the deal. Better a good Grand Father than a bad Big Brother!

By Digenis20th July 2020

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